The Messengers sent to warn and to give the good news to people faced many difficulties from the unbelievers, who wanted to prevent them from preaching God's religion. These unbelievers also thought that they could prevent people from following the Messengers' path by means of plots, slander, and persecution. Jesus endured everything that all of the other Messengers endured. For example, he was exposed to attacks from the idolatrous Roman occupying authorities and the dogmatic Jewish religious establishment. He fought against both of these powers, which were hostile to the true religion, although only a very few believers supported him.
Jesus' miraculous birth, teaching of the true religion, all miracles led some of the people of his time to recognize him as the expected Messiah, and they loved him for it. This love for him and his justified criticism of the religious elite led the leaders of the Roman occupation forces and the Jewish religious establishment to conspire against this noble man, and ultimately to attack him. Their attempt on his life was foiled when God raised him to His presence.
Before we proceed to examine Jesus' life and struggle in detail, it would be useful to know what the various sources say about him.
The oldest written portion of the New Testament
ever found (125 CE). The New Testament was written in Greek, which
was spoken in the eastern portion of the Roman Empire.
Sources about Jesus' life
Several sources relate Jesus' life. The primary source is the Qur'an, which has never been altered since its revelation and which contains no contradictions. For this reason, the information related by the other sources, which might have been altered since their original recording, will be used only insofar as they do not contradict the Qur'an. For any other matter not in conflict with the Qur'an, such as historical or archeological data, the Bible will be used as a reference along with other documents from that era. Other sources are the hadiths of the Prophet Mohammed(may God bless him and grant him peace) and the explanations, views, and interpretations of Islamic scholars.
The Bible, another important source, also gives detailed information about Jesus. However, over time it was tampered with and so lost its authenticity. As a result, it contains parts that are based on the true religion as well as parts that are wholly fabricated. For this reason, those parts that contain information about his life, teachings, and struggle, and which do not contradict the Qur'an, must be considered as important historic documents.
The earliest New Testament accounts are thought to have been written 30 to 40 years after Jesus died, in 63 CE. However, these no longer exist. The oldest documents available date back to the third and fourth centuries. Paul's letters, which gave Christianity its present form, were written before the New Testament (52-63 CE).
Otherwise, such historians as Flavius Josephus (37-100? CE), Philo (20 BCE-50 CE, and Tacitus (56-c.120 CE) have small chapters on the subject in their works. Even though they did not write much about Jesus as a person, their works contain useful and detailed information about the era. Finally, archeological explorations and discoveries will be used to shed light on the era in which Jesus lived and the events that took place during the time.
Zeus, a Greek mythological god and the counterpart
of the Roman god Jupiter.
Palestine at the time of Jesus
During Jesus' lifetime, the whole Mediterranean basin was under Roman
rule and thus a domestic affair. The Roman Empire was at its peak, militarily
as well as culturally. It had inherited both the ancient and the classical
Greek civilizations and had built upon them, and architecture and the
arts were at an advanced level. Not surprisingly, the Romans considered
themselves superior to all other nations and tried to impose their way
of life on the conquered lands.
The Roman religion was idolatrous. The deities of Greek mythology had long been a part of Roman religion, albeit under different names. Many idols, symbolized by statues, were worshipped, and Jupiter was considered the highest-ranking godhead. By the first half of the second century CE, the power of the Roman emperors had become so absolute and consolidated that some later emperors claimed divinity during their own lives. Greek religion was still widely practiced in Roman-ruled lands, and statues of Zeus, Hermes, and Venus were erected in the major cities' large public squares. Archaeology and literature of the time show that every city, suburb, and even house had its own different shrines complete with statues, icons, and a place dedicated to making offerings and worship. The Roman rulers used these pluralistic religions to further their own ambitions, and so did not interfere with them as long as they posed no threat to continued Roman rule. On the contrary, they encouraged these idolatrous beliefs by building temples and commissioning statues everywhere. For them, religion was a tool to inspire the masses to loyalty and a way to control them. Religion was an abstract concept that was only indirectly related to the world.
At the end of the first century CE, Rome
controlled a great part of western Europe, North Africa, and western
Asia. The empire was well served by a network of roads and harbors,
which helped the spread of Christianity. (Above: The Roman Empire
in 117 CE)
(The Greek temple in Paestum,
Italy (550 BCE) )
Have they not travelled in the land
and seen the final fate of those before them? They were greater
than them in stregth and than them in strength and left far deeper
traces on the land, yet God seized them for their wrong actions…
When the Romans encountered another culture, they would seek out similar
idols and merge them into their own pantheon in order to establish Roman
superiority. For such reasons, monotheistic Jews were forced to acknowledge
Zeus as godhead, especially at the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who
reigned from 175-63 BCE. This led to great conflicts, for religious Jews
responded negatively to such spiritual contamination and resolutely resisted
the attempts to Rome's spreading of its idolatrous beliefs.
The Romans chose not to interfere with the Jews' internal affairs, especially their religious affairs, when they saw the Jews' devotion to their religion, which was very different from their own man-made religion. Throughout Roman rule in Palestine, the Jews were permitted to practice their faith and the Temple, their spiritual center, continued be administered by the Jewish religious elite. Rome also permitted the Sanhedrin Council, the Jews' highest religious priestly tribunal, to continue its activities.
Even under Roman rule, the Sanhedrin could prosecute and punish a Jew according to Jewish law. The Roman governors appointed to rule the area suppressed all rebellions with an iron fist and showed no leniency when collecting taxes. For this reason, they tolerated the collaborating Jewish leadership and ruthlessly punished any rebellion against them.
A picture depicting the Hanging Gardens of
Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The small Jewish nation in which Jesus lived bordered
the great empires of the ancient world, which were always at war with
one another: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Syria. It did not survive
for long as an independent nation, and from the expulsion of Babylon (586-38
BCE) onwards, the Jews lived under foreign rule. In the Hellenistic era,3
they first came under Egyptian, then Syrian, and finally Roman rule. Only
once were they able to establish a Jewish kingdom. The Maccabees, a family
of priests, began a rebellion (167-42 BCE) that led to a Jewish kingdom
that survived for 80 years. Its ruling family, the Hasmonaeans, became
widely influential, but their kingdom collapsed because of fierce competition
for its leadership. The Roman general Pompey, who obtained the backing
of the warring factions, entered Palestine by taking Jerusalem in 63 BCE
and confined the Jewish state to Judea. The Hasmonaean King, Hyrcanus
II, enjoyed limited autonomy under the rule of the Roman governor. From
that day on, resentment toward this idolatrous government began to grow
in the Jewish community. In 37 BCE, Rome abolished this kingdom and appointed
Hyrcanus II's son-in-law, Herod I, as the new "King of Judea."
The Era of King Herod I
The Roman leadership's primary concern in Palestine was to collect taxes. An excessively high tax rate was imposed on the Jewish community, and Rome built a state machinery loyal to itself. Herod I (73-4 BCE), known for his admiration of Hellenistic culture, managed to have himself appointed the King of Jews with Rome's help and by taking advantage of Roman weaknesses and the changing landscape of power since Caesar's assassination (44 BCE). He expanded the Jewish province's borders to cover all of Palestine and actively promoted Hellenistic culture in order to gain Rome's favor. In addition, he advocated Hellenism's architectural and artistic aspects and wished to impose its materialistic worldview on the Jewish masses. Herod I had Solomon's Temple restored, in order to win popular Jewish support, and commissioned many statues and works of architecture. As a result of his popularity, he became known as "Herod the Great." However, despite all of the spectacular buildings, religious Jews resented him because he had become a collaborator and a despot.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus
was born while Herod the Great ruled Palestine (37-4 BCE). The Herodium
palace-fortress, built for Herod, was located 8 km south of Jerusalem
and comprised a palace, where Herod himself is buried. His tomb
has not yet been discovered.
Herod was a tyrant who killed many innocent
people. Fra Angelico's (1387-1455) painting, entitled "The
Massacre of the Innocents," depicts Herod's era. The painting
dates from 1451-53 and is on display at Florence's San Marco Museum.
Herod I ruled his province with Roman support from 37 BCE to 4 BCE. After
his death, Rome disregarded the Jews' appeals to end Herod's government
and divided the province between his sons. Rome appointed one son, Herod
Antipas, as tetrarch of Galilee, which he ruled from 4 BCE to 40 CE. According
to historical sources, Jesus' ministry coincides with the rule of this
man, who was at least his father's equal in terms of tyranny. This is
why the area's sociopolitical conditions are important to us. Galilee's
social fabric had changed dramatically since its colonial occupation.
The Jews scoffed at the area, and its civilization and culture, particularly
Herod Antipas' court, as well as the great palaces and some quarters of
the town, were under Hellenistic influence. The religion-based traditions
of those Jews who spoke Aramaic were far removed from Hellenistic culture.
As mentioned earlier, the Romans traditionally did not interfere with the Jews' religious affairs. But not all Roman governors adhered to this principle. Pontius Pilate in particular, the procurator at Jesus' time, was one of them. His government (26-36 CE) was tainted by tyranny and cruelty, both of which eventually caused him to be removed from office.
Jewish Sects at the Time of Jesus
Another problem that the Jews had to face was internal sectarian strife. Until the second century BCE, such strife was unheard of. However, in the last century before Jesus, the Jewish people became fragmented and many different views on the essence and true meaning of Judaism emerged. Besides the books of the Old Testament and the different interpretations of religious rules, political factors and Rome played an important part in this developing sectarianism. Looking at the records of that time, especially those of the famous Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, it can be said that many schools of thought developed among the Jewish people.
Four schools of thought became particularly prominent. One of these was the Sadducees, who were allied with the Roman government, gradually became the ruling class with Rome's support, and enjoyed great wealth. This school of thought became dominant among the wealthy Jews and was comparable to a political party. Their religious rules were derived from the first five books of the Old Testament (the Torah), which were interpreted according to their practical meanings, for the Sadducees did not accept such fundamental tenets of religion as life after death, Hell, and Paradise. Confronting them were the "conservative" Pharisees, who disagreed with the Sadducees' religious views, opposed their false beliefs, and generally led a more modest way of life. The Pharisee school was founded by religious Jews who played an important part in preserving and defending the Jewish faith. Later on, the Pharisees also became fragmented.
Another group was formed by the Zealots, who advocated armed resistance against Rome and its Jewish collaborators. They began to carry out assassinations and acts of violence against those members of the Jewish and Roman leadership who they considered to be opponents of God's rule. However, this rebellious movement was soon suppressed. Finally there were the Essenes, who devoted themselves to worship and meditation in caves and who would, in our own time, become well-known through their writings (the Dead Sea Scrolls), which were discovered in 1947. According to some researchers, the Essenes were a branch of the religious Pharisees. As will be seen in subsequent chapters, there seems to be a consensus among some researchers that the Essenes were closely linked to Jesus.
According to historical sources and some Biblical passages, Jesus was engaged in a great struggle against these idolatrous and heathen movements and preached God's religion by means of enlightening examples. It will be useful to examine these movements' views in order to understand the chaotic environment in which they existed.
An examination of these movements reveals that the Sadducees were the most influential and highest sect in terms of social status, as well as the only movement that held a worldview completely contradictory to the message delivered by Jesus. Even though the available sources do not explicitly state so, it is highly probable that Jesus vehemently opposed this movement. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns the believers of the Sadducees' views:
"Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (Matthew 16:6)
This group, which consisted of about 7,000 to 8,000
people, claimed to be the descendents of the high priests, collaborated
with Rome, were responsible for the Temple in Jerusalem, and supervised
the sacrifice system in place at the Temple.4 As they
were in charge of all of the Temple's activities, they considered themselves
a superior class and would not do any other work. As a result, they acquired
a great deal of wealth, political privilege, and status, and also passed
their respective jobs on to their sons. While they wished to continue
this legacy that guaranteed their dominant position, they also adopted
Hellenistic traditions and tried to spread them among society.
Furthermore, they had their own creed, which could be termed "materialistic." They believed that the soul died when the body died; that there was no afterlife; that angels, Hell, Paradise, and destiny did not exist; and that worldly matters were independent of matters of faith. Rome's cultural influence is evident here. Due to this perverse system of faith, they strove for the worldly life and political power. They remained in power for a relatively long time, during which they fought the other schools of thought. Their rule only came to an end when the Jewish province was abolished in 70 CE.
Ruins of the Roman Empire in Rome.
The Pharisees disagreed with the Sadducees and diverged from them in
many ways. They studied the Torah and other scriptures, were considered
to be the authority in matters of faith, and were respected by the people.
They opposed the Sadducees' administration of the Temple and criticized
all of their extra-religious activities. Contrary to the Sadduceees, they
believed in the soul, the afterlife, and in Paradise and Hell. Moreover,
they did not collaborate with Rome and rejected the Hellenistic culture
introduced by Rome. However, the policy of Pax Romana, introduced by Rome
to create an atmosphere of peace throughout the Roman Empire, suited them
In reality, the Pharisees were a deeply religious group of Jews who fought irreligion. They tried to preserve and propagate religion in the Jewish community under the term "verbal tradition." They worked to introduce the Mosaic law and even fought in this cause. Some historians suggest that Jesus must have been together with these religious people, as his teachings are closest to the Pharisees' views. Although he warned and reminded the Pharisees several times, he also befriended and ate with them (Luke 7:36, 11:37, 14:1).
The most active group after the Sadducees and the Pharisees were the Zealots, most of whom had originally been Phariseees. Their resentment of the Roman occupation drove them to radicalism and, eventually, to form this new movement. The Zealots, who believed that an armed uprising against the Roman occupation was necessary, established a resistance movement and, using guerilla tactics, assassinated Romans as well as Jewish collaborators. They even organized large-scale uprisings. One of their branches became known as the Sicarii (Dagger-men) at the time of Jesus because of their dagger attacks.
This group, which emerged at the time of Herod the Great, advocated a different political view. Under the leadership of Judas the Galilean, a messianic figure, the Zealots started an uprising when Judea was brought under direct Roman rule in 6 CE and a new tax regime was introduced. According to them, acknowledging the pagan rule of the Roman emperor meant rejecting God's authority in favor of slavery.
The first uprising was quashed quickly. Most of the rebels died, but those who survived continued their resistance. The next uprising turned into the first Jewish revolt (66-70 CE), which ended in a mass suicide of the Jews holed up in their fortress in Masada. At the time of Jesus, many such fanatical movements expecting the Messiah emerged and managed to attract large followings. However, the Romans took serious precautions against these movements and increased their control and oppression. If they encountered anything that could incite the people, they reacted hard and without mercy. Later on, the Jews used the Romans' sensitivity in this regard against Jesus.
The Zealots also took an interest in Jesus' ministry, for they were anticipating the Messiah.
The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls
(The caves in Qumran)
Those with faith, those who are Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans,
all who believe in God and the Last Day and act rightly, will have
their reward with their Lord. (Qurâ€™an , 2 : 62)
Unlike the other groups, whose members lived in Jerusalem or other towns
and cities, the Essenes lived in remote corners of the Jordanian hinterland.
They were a more devout people, in comparison to the others, and had a
more spiritual nature. They shared the common belief of the people: The
Messiah would come soon, would correct the deviations and aberrations
of the Children of Israel, and would free the Holy Land from Roman occupation.
This sect's members were totally hostile to Hellenistic culture and Roman
rule, and were trying their best to live by the Mosaic law. They isolated
themselves from the outside world, living in caves in the Jordanian hinterland
and spending all of their time working on scriptures, in order to await
the Messiah in dedication and worship.
Flavius Josephus wrote about this group in his book, but when scholars realized that the scrolls found in the caves of Qirbet Qumran in 1947 near the western shore of the Dead Sea belonged to the Essenes, they suddenly became the best-known group of all, and their sect's importance to history was raised by the interpretations of the scrolls' contents. Further excavations yielded a total of 600 scrolls and other items in Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. Among the discoveries were Biblical texts, heretofore unknown religious texts of Judaism, texts relating the sect's rules and practices of everyday life, and many other subjects.
After long and arduous research, researchers ascertained that the scrolls were written by the scribes of a Jewish sect, widely acknowledged to be the Essenes. The Roman writer Pliny the Younger (62-113 CE) states that the Essenes lived in Qirbet Qumran, which strengthens their case further. The oldest scroll dates back to 200 BCE, and the most recent belongs to the year 68 CE. This date coincides with the counterattack launched by the Roman General Vespasian (9-79 CE) to quell the Jewish revolt.
On April 15, 1957, Time magazine published
a comprehensive article on the Dead Sea Scrolls. After this, the
world media began to take an interest in the excavations.
When the scrolls were analyzed, much about the Essenes' lives and beliefs
came to light. They believed in a Savior-Prophet about to come to them;
believed in the scriptures and abiding strictly by their law; and, contrary
to the Sadducees, believed in the Hereafter, destiny, angels, Paradise,
and Hell. Furthermore, they believed themselves to be the "Sons of Light"
in the service of the Lord, and were preparing for the battle with the
"Sons of Darkness." The expression "Sons of Light" also appears in the
Bible. The Essenes, who considered cleanliness paramount, bathed several
times a day, regarded one another as brothers, and valued brotherly love.
One of their core beliefs was that a Messiah would come. Without a doubt,
this community was in a high state of expectation and believed that the
End Times were near. Their writings reveal that they were expecting more
than one person and also mention more than one person with superior qualities.
However, it has not been possible to ascertain their true identity or
nature. They are referred to as Messiah-Priest, Messiah-King, and Teacher
To sum up, research reveals that the Essenes were a branch of the Pharisee
movement and shared the same beliefs. They abandoned the Sadducee's official
religion of Judaism and their Torah, as did the Pharisees, and tried to
spread their creed by leading a modest life. This religious group expected
a Messiah, based on the scriptures that they had, and sought to prepare
for his arrival. This proves that the true religion was alive and followed,
despite all attempts to lead people away from it. The Jews' fragmentation
at the time of Jesus is noteworthy. The Jewish people were enduring a
pagan occupation government and were ideologically divided in their various
interpretations of Judaism. Each sect had its own views, and each one
claimed to represent true Judaism. Many Jews had given up hope in the
world and had begun to await the Last Hour, which they believed to be
The first scrolls belonging to the Essenes
were found in sealed containers. The first part of the scrolls found
in cave no. 11.
This painting depicts a meeting of the believers
Jews Expecting "The Savior"
The Old Testament contains a great deal of material
on the Messiah's second coming. These revelations, some of which we will
examine later on, had such an effect on people that the Messiah came to
mean salvation for them. When Maimonides (1135-1204), the famous Jewish
theologian who lived in Andalucia (Muslim Spain), was working on the Jewish
system of faith, he reserved an article of faith out of his thirteen principles
for the coming of Messiah. It read: "I believe with complete faith in
the coming of the Messiah; and though he may tarry, I shall wait for him
… “Our Lord, take us out
of this city, whose inhatiants are wrongdoers! Give us a protector
from You! Give us a helper from You!” (Qurâ€™an, 4:75)
According to Judaism, God will send a leader to the Children of Israel,
at a time when they are at their lowest politically as well as religiously,
to save them on both counts. This leader will enable the Children of Israel
to believe as purely in God as they used to, and also will lead them to
victory against their enemies as "the Messiah."
Some books of the Old Testament refer frequently to this savior and reveal the righteousness, justice, and happiness that will prevail when his time has come. For instance, the Book of Isaiah reveals the Messiah's great sense of justice, "fear of the Lord," and insight, as well as the happiness that he will bring to the Children of Israel, as follows:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of power, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt. ... The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling [will lie down] together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, [just] as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9)
According to the New Testament, Jesus was
born in Bethlehem. Thus, Christians consider it a holy town.
… His name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, of
high esteem in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those
brought near (to God) (Qurâ€™an, 3: 45)
This anticipation of the Messiah grew stronger under Herod the Great's
tyrannical regime. Movements expecting the Messiah sprang up everywhere
on Jewish soil and were busy either preparing for his arrival or reminding
people of his imminent arrival. However, this anticipation began to be
perceived as a threat by and to Rome, as well as to Herod's authority,
because they were usually aimed at the Roman regime and its compliant
Jewish administration. Such a strong movement could incite the whole society
to rise up against pagan rule. To prevent this, both authorities took
various precautions. According to the Bible, this was the reason why Herod
ordered the murder of all Jewish boys up to 2 years old. The Gospel of
Matthew relates that:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi [wise men] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked: "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east."… When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'" Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said: "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me." … When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." (Matthew 2:1-8, 16-18)
The exterior of the Church of the Nativity,
believed to have been built on the spot where Jesus was born. This
church, located in Bethlehem, is one of the most holy sites for
One of the Messiah's signs is that he will be a descendent of David.
The Bible reveals that Jesus is a descendent of David (2 Timothy 2:8).
The belief in the Messiah was a variable factor with the Jewish sects. Some of the Jews believed that the Messiah would be a Savior-Prophet, not a supernatural being but a human just like the Prophets David, Solomon, or Moses. In other words, he would be a loyal servant of God and someone, as the Bible says, who "will delight in the fear of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:3) The Essenes foresaw the Messiah's miracles and anticipated his arrival. According to them, the Messiah would raise the fallen, heal the sick, free the captives, and awaken the dead. Since the Jews knew very well by looking at the available information that the Messiah's arrival was imminent, many groups and people were awaiting and preparing for this event, both in the desert and in the city.
Oppressed People Want a Savior
The Qur'an speaks of oppressed people who, while suffering hardship and tyranny, expect a savior who will deliver them from their troubles. Our Lord says the following:
What reason could you have for not fighting in the Way of God-for those men, women, and children who are oppressed and exclaim: "Our Lord, take us out of this city whose inhabitants are wrongdoers! Give us a protector from You! Give us a helper from You!"? (Qur'an, 4:75)
The verses reveal that the nations to which God sent His Messengers were experiencing total social and moral exhaustion before the arrival of the Messengers appointed for them by God. Following their arrival, the people who believed in them lived in plenty, ease, and happiness. But after their departure, some people followed their selfish instincts and thus moved away from religious morality and toward denial. They failed themselves by worshipping idols as God's partners. In the Qur'an, God reveals the Messengers' loyalty to Him, as well as their sincerity and devotion, and then speaks of those people who lost their faith, as follows:
Those are some of the Prophets God has blessed, from the descendants of Adam and from those We carried with Noah, from the descendants of Abraham and Isra'il, and from those We guided and chose. When the Signs of the All-Merciful were recited to them, they fell on their faces, weeping, in prostration. An evil generation succeeded them, who neglected the prayer and followed their appetites. They will plunge into the Valley of Evil. (Qur'an, 19:58-59)
God reprimanded these people, for they distanced themselves from religion
and never thought about why they were created or what their responsibilities
toward their Creator were. In return for this, He changed His blessing
and gave them a hard life: "But if anyone turns
away from My reminder, his life will be a dark and narrow one..." (Qur'an,
Throughout history, people who are enduring economic or social problems and who are suffering under an unjust regime have felt the need for a savior who would correct the system's negative aspects; guarantee justice, peace, and security; and guide them onto the right path. Today's societies also are experiencing rapid decline, decadence, and degeneration. People who live in abject poverty, misery, and cruelty crave a life of morality and happiness. God sent saviors to people in the past, following their social breakdown, and then gave them lives filled with plenty, ease, and wealth. In the following verse, God reveals that He will give wealth and ease to people who fear and stand in awe of Him, and who respect the limits that He has established:
If only the people of the cities had believed and guarded against evil, We would have opened up to them blessings from Heaven and Earth. But they denied the truth, [and] so We seized them for what they earned. (Qur'an, 7:96)
Our Lord reminds us of an important reality in the above verse: Religious morality is the only way leading to peace, happiness, general welfare, and prosperity. This was so in the past, and will remain so in the future. Where there is no Islamic morality, there cannot be justice, security, and dependability. This is God's law, as stated in the following verse:
You will not find any changing in the pattern of God. You will not find any alteration in the pattern of God. (Qur'an, 35:43)
The period in which we are living is ruled by decadence. Material as well as spiritual decay is widespread, perversity (in the sense of irreligious behavior) is widespread, political and economic instability are the norm, and the gap between rich and poor is huge. Among the truths revealed by the Qur'an is that God shows a way out after such times, through which Islamic morality will prevail everywhere on Earth, and true religion will prevail over man-made beliefs. As the verses given below state:
They desire to extinguish God's Light with their mouths. But God refuses to do other than perfect His Light, even though the unbelievers detest it. It is He Who sent His Messenger with guidance and the Religion of Truth to exalt it over every other religion, even though the idolaters detest it. (Qur'an, 9:32-33)
God has helped every faithful nation, and will continue to help the believers, for He has promised this to His sincere and faithful servants. The verses say:
[They are] those who were expelled from their homes without any right, merely for saying: "Our Lord is God." If God had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, places where God's name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed. God will certainly help those who help Him. God is All-Strong, Almighty. [And they are] those who, if We establish them firmly in the land, will perform prayer and give the alms, and command what is right and forbid what is wrong. The end result of all affairs is with God. (Qur'an, 22:40-41)
Prophet John (Yahya)
If only the people of the cities had
believed and guarded against evil, We would have opened up to them
blessings from Heaven and Earth. But they denied the truth, so We
seized them for what they earned. ( Qurâ€™an, 7 :96 )
According to the New Testament, John (known as John the Baptist in the
Christian tradition) began preaching some time before Jesus appeared about
the Messiah's imminent arrival. In fact, he became Jesus' greatest supporter.
John's birth was a miracle, as the Qur'an reveals:
Kaf Ha Ya 'Ayn Sad. Remember your Lord's mercy to His servant Zechariah, when he called on his Lord in secret and said: "My Lord, my bones have lost their strength and my head is crowned with white. But in calling on You, My Lord, I have never been disappointed. I fear [that] my relatives [will forget You] when I am gone, and my wife is barren, so give me an heir from You to be my inheritor and the inheritor of the family of Jacob. And make him, my Lord, pleasing to You." "Zechariah! We give you the good news of a boy named John, a name we have given to no one else before." He [Zechariah] said: "My Lord! How can I have a boy when my wife is barren and I have reached advanced old age?" He [the Lord] said: "It will be so! Your Lord says: 'That is easy for me to do. I created you before, when you were not anything.'" (Qur'an, 19:1-9)
Fain would they extinguish Allah's light with
their mouths, but Allah will not allow but that His light should
be perfected, even though the Unbelievers may detest (it). (Qur'an:9:32)
The narrative of John's birth in the Gospel of Luke is compatible with
these verses. Zechariah was John's father, and he and his wife Elisabeth
were, according to Luke, "upright in the sight of God, observing all of
the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly" (Luke, 1:6). Both
were old, and neither could have children. But God gave Zechariah the
news of a son, as follows:
When Zechariah saw him [the angel], he was startled and gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God." (Luke 1:12-16)
John was a God-fearing and righteous servant, a guide to enlightenment for his people. God praises him in the Qur'an, as follows:
[We said:] "John, take hold of the Book with vigor." We gave him judgment while still a child, and tenderness and purity from Us. He guarded [himself] against evil, was devoted to his parents, and was not insolent or disobedient. Peace be upon him the day he was born, and the day he dies, and the day he is raised up again alive. (Qur'an, 19:12-15)
John, whom the New Testament also calls a loyal servant of God and a God-fearing believer warned the Jews about their conceit, and invited them to abide by God's law and to abstain from sin. The Gospel of Luke relates a conversation between John and some Jews who came to hear him:
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him: "You brood
of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit
in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves: 'We
have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you that out of these stones God
can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the
trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down
and thrown into the fire." "What should we do then?" the crowd asked.
John answered: "The man with two tunics should share with him who has
none, and the one who has food should do the same." Tax collectors also
came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" "Don't
collect any more than you are required to," he told them. Then some soldiers
asked him: "And what should we do?" He replied: "Don't extort money, don't
accuse people falsely, and be content with your pay." (Luke 3:7-14)
According to the New Testament, John was telling the people who came
to hear him that "the time has come" (Mark 1:15). The one foretold in
the verse "after me will come one" was about to arrive (Mark 1:7).